Africa’s rivers and lakes

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The historical significance of African Rivers

African rivers were extremely important in shaping the history of Africa in different areas. Take, for example, The Nile River which was very important in the settlement patterns in Egypt. The Soil around the Nile River was very fertile and brought about settlements around that area compared to the more arid landscape in other parts of the country. We also see the mention of the Nile River in most of the Egyptian myths whereby it shaped their life, beliefs through Hapi (the god of the Nile) and Ma’at (the goddess of truth, law and order), culture and was named “The Father of African Rivers.” The ma’at (righteousness) of the nation was assessed by mathematically measuring the inundation of the Nile, since a good flooding was a pre-cursor for a good year of harvest. The Nile river basin also served as the platform for the evolution and decay of advanced civilization in the ancient world.


The Egyptian civilization was developed along the River Nile because of the river’s annual flooding which ensured reliable and rich soil for crop growth. There was a continuous struggle for power in the Egyptian political system as at that time, due to its importance in the region owing to its agricultural and economic resources that were produced by its complex social organization. Wide-reaching trading networks were developed along the Nile River, in the Red Sea, and the Near East.


The Kerma culture was an early civilization in Kerma, Sudan. Its civilization was around 2500BCE to 1500BCE in the ancient state of Nubia, located in Northern Sudan and Upper Egypt. Its polity was also centered on the Nile Valley during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt.


Meroe was an ancient city on the East bank of the River Nile, near Sudan. It was the capital of The Kingdom Kush in ancient civilization. The city of Meroe was one of the early states located in the Middle of the Nile. It was also termed one of the most impressive states in the earliest times found south of the Sahara. Meroe was also the south capital of the Napatal Kingdom around c. 800BCE – c. 350BCE.


Researchers have recorded so far the world’s oldest civilization, and that is the city of Ta-Seti. Evidence has been seen of the oldest recognizable monarchy in human history, even before the rise of the earliest Egyptian Kings. Artifacts from ancient Nubia suggest that the first Kings of Ta-Seti might have ruled as far back as 5900BC.


Sai Island was a large island in the Nile River in Nubia with the northeast part of the island containing New Kingdom of Egypt temples and mills which was highly linked with ancient gold production.

World first inventions

The world has experienced numerous inventions in different sectors and areas including in river and lake-related items.

Some of the earliest inventions around rivers and lakes included:

Ø    The Harpoons – weapons for fishing whose usage dates back to more than 90,000 years ago.

Ø    Fishing Hooks– the oldest fish hooks were made from Sea snail shell and discovered in Sakitari Cave between 22,380 to 22,770 years ago

Ø    Fishing lines

Ø    Fishing Boats– Egyptians were building long narrow boats around 4000B.C, but the first fishing boat was dated back to Neolithic period around 7,000 – 9,000 years ago.

Africa’s Rivers

Amongst the numerous rivers in Africa, some are classified as major rivers in Africa. These include

  • RIVER NILE: being the longest river in Africa and in the world, it has a length of 4,132mi (6,650Km) and flows with a total navigational distance of 1,545Km. River Nile also provides energy for most of the countries it passes through.
  • RIVER CONGO: River Congo is the world’s deepest river and the second longest river in Africa with its depth reaching over 220m (720ft). It is recorded as the ninth longest river in the world with a length of 2,922mi (4,700Km).
  • RIVER NIGER: holding the position of the eleventh longest river in the world is the River Niger, the third longest river in Africa has a length of over 2,611mi (4,200Km). It is also seen as the principal river of western Africa.
  • RIVER ZAMBEZI: Standing as the fourth longest river in Africa is River Zambezi with a 1,673-mile length (2,693Km) and an area of its basin being over 1,390,000 Sq Km. River Zambezi is the largest flowing river from Africa into the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi flows through eastern Angola, eastern Namibia, northern Zimbabwe, along the southern border of Zambia and through Mozambique.

  • RIVER UBANGI: River Ubangi is the fifth longest river in Africa with a length of 1,410 miles (2,270Km).
  • RIVER KASAI: River Kasai stands as the sixth longest river in Africa and serves as the border between Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has a length of 1,338mi (2,153Km).
  • RIVER ORANGE: Being the longest River in South Africa, River Orange is the seventh longest river in Africa with a length of 1,300mi (2,092Km). It also flows into the Atlantic Ocean through South Africa.
  • RIVER LIMPOPO: River Limpopo is known as the eighth longest river in Africa and flows into the Indian Ocean having a length of 1,118mi (1,800Km).
  • RIVER SENEGAL: River Senegal is the ninth longest river in Africa and the longest river in West Africa with a length of 1,020mi (1,600Km). River Senegal is actually formed by the junction of Bafing and Bakoy rivers in Mali.

Africa’s Lakes

Africa is blessed with lakes in different regions. The major Lakes in Africa include:

Ø    Lake Victoria

Ø    Lake Tanganyika

Ø    Lake Nyasa

Ø    Lake Albert

Ø    Lake Chad

The Largest Lake in Africa

Lake Victoria stands as the largest lake in Africa and also the largest freshwater lake in Africa. It also is the second largest freshwater lake in the world after Lake Superior in North America with area coverage of 26,828 sq mi (69,485 Km2). It is situated in Eastern Africa.

Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania are the countries that border Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria supports a diverse ecosystem of islands and reefs in these regions, including various species of fish.

The Longest River in Africa

The longest river in Africa is the River Nile with a length of 4,132miles or 6,650 kilometers. It is also the longest River in the world flowing northwards from Burundi through Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea. It has a geographical coordinate of 18.4500o N, 33.3833o E.

It has a total navigational distance of 1,545Km and also has the potential of producing energy for the countries through which it flows. Energy produced for the different countries are as follows:

  • Uganda – 4,343 megawatts
  • Sudan – 3,280 megawatts
  • South Sudan – 2,570 megawatts
  • Rwanda – 20 megawatts
  • Ethiopia – 13,947 megawatts
  • Egypt – 40 megawatts
  • Burundi – 20 megawatts

The River Nile is formed by three tributaries, the Blue Nile, the White Nile, and the Atbara.

It is referred to as the lifeblood of Egypt since most of Egypt’s population live in the Nile valley.

Major characteristics of the Nile River:

Ø    It supports different types of vegetation including the Papyrus, hamomile, opium poppy, and the Egyptian water lily among other vegetation types.

Ø    The River Nile supports a lot of wildlife like the crocodile, hippos, and many species of animals and birds.

Ø    The Nile valley has been a region for different forms of farming for a very long time.

Ø    A lot of fish are found in the River including Tilapia.

Ø    Some parts of the Nile River are Navigable.

Regions without major rivers flowing through them

In terms of region, there are no major rivers in North Central and North West Africa. This can be attributed to the northern part of Africa being dry and hot. One remarkable country in this region is Libya.

Libya stands as a country in Africa without any major rivers flowing through it. The major reason for this is the Lack of sufficient rainfall which in turn causes great drought conditions in the region. Although, there is the Great man-made river project that acts as a major supply of water for Libya. They have one of the Largest Man-made Rivers in the world.

Lakes and rivers were the great highways of Africa

The major reason why geographers refer to rivers and Lakes in Africa as the great highways of Africa is that, over the centuries, Rivers and Lakes have been the major source of Transportation and communication in Africa between regions, especially coastline regions. Highways are used for transportation between regions and acts as boundaries, Rivers, and Lakes also act as Natural system of highway linking different areas. In this light, we can see the similarity between rivers, Lakes, and our major highways, in that they determine boundaries in different regions.

Benefits of lakes and rivers

Rivers have always been a great source of resources for both humans, animals, and the ecosystem in general. Numerous ways can be sited in which this is possible. Among these are:

Ø    Fishing and Hunting: Many parts of the world make use of Rivers for both recreational purposes and also a means for providing food. Provision of food is mostly done through subsistence fishing, though this has been threatened by the creation of Dams in most of the Rivers. Commercial fishing still exists in some areas, but there are more recreational fishing and hunting of waterfowl these days.

Ø    Study:  Environmental organizations and private Volunteers monitor Rivers across countries to keep them healthy for research and study purposes. Rivers and Lakes are a good way to learn about ecological issues.

Ø    Transportation: Canoes, Sailboats, Sampans, and rafts have been used for thousands of years to move people and goods up and down rivers to a different location around the world. Also, Larger Rivers have been a major shipping route for modern industries.

Ø    Power: Rivers have been a great source of power generation in most parts of the world through hydro-electric power generation. Even for major power plants that operate using coal and nuclear fuel, water is drawn from rivers to cool down this equipment since they generate a large amount of heat alongside power generation.

Ø    Mining: Rivers, like the rivers of California in the 19th century, was a source of gold. We also see some areas that dig deep into ocean beds in search of Crude.

Ø    Drinking and Irrigation: water has always been a source of irrigation for agricultural fields, Orchards, and provision of water for Livestock. Water is also used for drinking, washing, fountains, and pools.

Ø    Enjoyment: Rivers and lakes provide means for outdoor activities such as water Skiing, swimming, and a lot of water sports.

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Africa’s rivers and lakes

by Editorial Team time to read: 7 min